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Friday, July 29, 2016

Nirvana -- MTV Unplugged in New York


So Kurt Cobain died. I watched his memorial service on MTV. His wife read his suicide note. I remember that part the most, because I was in disbelief at how she was embellishing his note with her own comments, and that most of those comments were derogatory to Kurt. It's easy to lose count of how many times she calls him an "asshole" in just the first few minutes. It's weird, I just watched it on Youtube for the first time since I saw it on TV 22 years ago, and I am realizing that I can almost remember it word for word.
Here it is.

Her reading felt so insulting to his memory, but as I watch it now, having been married for a decade and with a child of my own, I can understand the impulse she followed. It doesn't change the fact that he is gone, cannot give guidance to his child, and cannot make music anymore. And with that, I think I am already done talking about Cobain's death (SPOILER ALERT! I'M NOT!). Great symbols for generations usually die young. I don't know why. Maybe it is impossible for them to exist for too long. Whatever the case, their deaths always make for good conspiracies. I wonder, with the ubiquity of the Millennial Generation, if they'll have someone, a figurehead, like that. With the Internet seemingly carving up humanity into six billion subgroups, I seriously doubt it.
Nirvana left one last definitive audio document after Cobain's death, and their dissolution, though I remember watching MTV Unplugged in New York before Kurt died. I should remember, too, because it first aired on my birthday. It took nearly a full year for the audio CD of the concert to be released, though, seventh months after Cobain's April 1994 death.
MTV Unplugged in New York is Nirvana's last musical will and testament, but it's also a ghost of what might have been. After the noisy distortion of In Utero, Unplugged quite obviously goes for something less electric, but it is in no way a gimmick. Instead of just playing "the hits" with acoustic guitars, Cobain and crew used the Unplugged opportunity to evolve the musical identity of Nirvana. Two of Unplugged's 14 songs are Nirvana singles. Six are non-single tracks from Nirvana's previous three albums. The other six are covers of songs by bands who certainly do not sound like Nirvana. The performance of the eight Nirvana songs are stripped down, but they aren't "unplugged." Cobain plays through an amplifier the whole time. This isn't an acoustic Nirvana--it is a different iteration of Nirvana altogether. This Nirvana defies genre, particularly "grunge," blending folk, Americana, and classic rock, into their own unique sound and punk attitude.
I only say this is a "ghost" of what could have been, because I don't think Kurt could have survived without some serious mental health treatment for his depression and bipolar disorder, true rehabilitation for his crippling heroin addiction, and some type of peace or resolution in his marriage. I don't think Kurt would have been the same person after overcoming these considerable deficits, and I don't think the art he would have created after such an arduous, life-changing transformation would be predicated on anything he had done before, if indeed he would have wanted to continue making music at all. The person who survived would have certainly created something drastically different. The Kurt who wrote these four beloved albums could not possibly have survived past his 27 short years on this Earth. MTV Unplugged in New York is this iteration of Kurt Cobain's final musical stop.
With all that said, and little else to say, this is one of my favorite albums of all time, and contains one of my favorite musical moments ever. I won't even pretend like its is some obscure, little heralded moment. It is the most famous moment of this album.

As a junior high all-star with little life experience, I could still tell that "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" is a dead man's song, and that the eyes that flutter open 5:06 into this video are those of a man who knows he will soon leave this Earth in a box. But the shriek leading up to that eye opening moment stops time itself.
I should also note that as a religious person, I am still troubled by Kurt's conclusions on track three of this album. He needed hope, and that song dashes it.
I don't have anything else to say about Baby Boomers vs. Generation X vs Millennials. Any human being can enjoy this performance...well, maybe not Baby Boomers. Thanks for reading these rambling, searching reviews, where I attempt to carve out my identity right in front of you. If anything, I hope you gained a further or new appreciation for this great band, whose name, I am quite certain, will emblazon the t-shirts of my (theoretical) grandchildren's generation...if they still wear shirts or aren't completely destroyed by some predicted or unpredicted disaster by then. My bets on destruction by Space Squirrels.

1994 DGC
1. About a Girl 3:37
2. Come as You Are 4:13
3. Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam (The Vaselines cover) 4:37
4. The Man Who Sold the World (David Bowie cover) 4:20
5. Pennyroyal Tea 3:40
6. Dumb 2:52
7. Polly 3:16
8. On a Plain 3:44
9. Something in the Way 4:01
10. Plateau (Meat Puppets cover) 3:37
11.Oh, Me (Meat Puppets cover) 3:26
12.Lake of Fire (Meat Puppets cover) 2:56
13. All Apologies 4:23
14. Where Did You Sleep Last Night (Traditional; arranged by Lead Belly) 5:08

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